Wednesday 26 October 2016

Heaven 17 at The Sage

Heaven 17 
The Sage, Gateshead
Heaven 17 turned on the style at The Sage as they celebrated 35 years of Penthouse and Pavement.

The first half of the show saw them run straight through the seminal album, with an encore of Come Live With Me thrown in for good measure.

The songs are still as strong as ever and the performances were committed and exciting. Glenn Gregory was right when he said the songs have just as much relevance in today's world as they did 35 years ago.
The second half saw Heaven 17 in their other guise as the British Electric Foundation and it brought forth three guest stars: Peter Hooton, Mari Wilson and Glen Matlock. Thus we were treated to new versions of Altogether Now, Just I What I Always Wanted and Pretty Vacant, among others.

Glenn Gregory to the vocal duties to pump up the gas even higher with Boys Keep Swinging and a fabulous version of Temptation.
The finale saw everyone back on stage for a stirring rendition of Black's Wonderful Life. Poignancy was apparent when it was revealed Black was about to join Heaven 17 for an earlier tour shortly before his fatal car crash.

Great songs, excellent performances. Another great evening at The Sage.

Follow the latest Heaven 17 news over on their official website.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Nine Below Zero: 13 Shades of Blue

13 Shades of Blue
Nine Below Zero
Nine Below Zero have been around for a long time, blasting out British rhythm and blues in the good old style since 1977. Despite a hiatus in the 1980s and a number of changes in personnel - including, almost unthinkably, Mark Feltham, who was absent for nearly all of the 1990s - Nine Below Zero have proved they can survive against the odds and have clearly not lost their love of playing live. Their current tour started in September and is scheduled to stretch at least to the end of March 2017; I caught their blistering appearance at The Arc last weekend.

From the title, 13 Shades of Blue may sound like a continuation of the British blues style, but instead we find an unexpected degree of evolution, both in the material and the style of delivery. Doubling the number of their touring personnel from four to eight has allowed an expansion of instruments and sounds, allowing Nine Below Zero to broaden their blues horizons and embrace the genres of funk, soul and Cajun. The songs are all covers but this time they sound like never before. No fewer than 20 musicians are credited on the album and, incidentally, it is good to see Brian Bethell keeping his bass duties on eight of the tracks, despite not being up to the rigours of touring.

Track List

Don't Lay Your Funky Trip on Me
Watch What You Do To Me
That's What Love Will Make You Do
Don't Play That Song (You Lied)
It's Your Voodoo Working
You're Still My Woman
The Toddle
I'm Gonna Keep What I've Got
Crawling Up a Hill
I Want to Know
My Woman is Good to Me
Paper in My Shoe

Don't Lay Your Funky Trip on Me proves to be just as good an opener as it did when they used it to start the Arc show. Indeed, it was the starting point of the whole project. Dennis 'walked into a bar and heard the track playing in the background and thought, this is great; who is it?' Utilising the Shazam app on his phone to identify thew song, Dennis then shared it with the band, and 'so began 13 Shades of Blue.'

Glenn Tilbrook (collaborator on The Co-Operative album) is very much in on the act too. His studio was used to record the album and he plays sitar on That's What Love Will Make You Do. Glenn suggested recording Don't Play That Song (You Lied) and his intuition bore fruit, as this is one of the stand-out tracks on the album, partly due to the powerful guest vocals from Charlie Austen. 
It also showcases another aspect of the band's new direction, with the harmonica and keyboard merging wonderfully well.
Other notable highlights include Crawling Up a Hill (last heard here at Marsh Towers covered by Katie Melua) and It's Your Voodoo Working.
Despite the introduction of a plethora of new instruments, the songs are still driven in the good old style by the guitar of Dennis Greaves. Laying the guitar sound over the big band sound is something Brian Setzer has been doing for years (albeit it on a much larger scale). For Nine Below Zero, the change of style was a risk - but it has paid off. 13 Shades of Blue is a triumph and one which breaks new ground while staying faithful to their own style.

Keep up to date with the latest news and tour dates over at the official Nine Below Zero website.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Nine Below Zero Back at The Arc

Nine Below Zero
The Arc, Stockton-on-Tees

It has been three and a half years since Nine Below Zero last played at The Arc. Last night they returned in triumphant style, determined to show old dogs are more than capable of learning new tricks.

The personnel had doubled from four to eight since the last time they played Stockton-on-Tees, with Dennis Greaves and Mark Feltham being the only two survivors from the previous line up.

Mickey Burkey is now permanently back on drums, following the 'Classic Line Up' shows of 2014 and Ben Willis has replaced Brian Bethell on the bass. The new line up is completed by the addition of Charlie Austen on backing (and sometimes lead) vocals, Andrew Noble on keyboards, Chris Rand on saxophone and Paul Jordan's on trumpet. This is the line up featured on the brand new album, 13 Shades of Blue, which will be reviewed here later in the week.

The introduction of a horn section, keyboard and female vocals allows the band to explore new directions as well as adding new dimensions to prime its form their extensive back catalogue.

The evening blasted off with Don't Lay Your Funky Trip on Me, the first of a number of songs to be played from the new album. Indeed, it is the album's opener too and it showcases, perhaps more than any other song, the capabilities of the new line up. The lyrics are sparse, allowing the music to speak more or less for itself.

The new songs rubbed shoulders with Nine Below Zero classics such as Don't Point Your Finger at the Guitar Man, You, Never Too Late, Woolly Bully and 11+11. They even slipped into a version of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross, before Dennis halted proceedings to inform the audience, 'We don't do that one.'

Dennis was on top form, as usual, as he added humorous interludes between the songs. At one point he drew attention to three pieces of carpet he claimed they had bought from a well-known store earlier in the day. 'We were in and out in 17 minutes. Why do children have to take their parents to these shops?'


Pride was expressed at various junctures. First, with the stand against online streaming and Nine Below Zero's refusal to play along, based on the paltry returns of 0.02p offered per stream or download. Dennis gave the rallying cry to keep the music product as a physical entity. He went on to say they hope to release a vinyl version of 13 Shades of Blue and that the early indications are promising.

There was also pride in the fact that 'We've brought back the drum solo!' and Mickey Burkey certainly showed how it is done.

Mickey Burkey - drum solo!

It is remarkable that after so many years in the business Nine Below Zero have found to a way to evolve their style and expand their repertoire to embrace the worlds of funk and jazz into their established haven of British rhythm and blues. It will be interesting to see if this new style is here to stay. Meanwhile, keep an eye in their tour dates and catch them if you can.

We conclude with a few more captured moments from the pulsating gig.

Thursday 13 October 2016

Nine Below Zero on Teesside

Following yesterday's exciting news about Nine Below Zero's return to Teesside, we take a look back to their most recent visits. Click on the links below for a full review of each show.

They brought the 2011 Guisborough Rhythm and Blues Festival to an explosive end, topping the bill ahead of rising blues star Oli Brown.

Two years flew by before their next appearance on Teesside, at The Arc, Stockton in 2013.
They returned to the area for a gig at the Saltburn Spa in 2014, together with Ben Walters.
2014 brought a quick return to the area (albeit just a little bit further up than Teesside) at the Old Town Hall, Gateshead.

Expect a little more coverage of Nine Below Zero prior to their return to The Arc in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday 12 October 2016

Nine Below Zero

Cult Rhythm and Blues heroes Nine Below Zero are currently touring the UK in support of their brand new album 13 Shades of Blue, and will be performing at The Arc on Saturday 22 October.

Nine Below Zero tour with line-up of three original band members; Dennis Greaves (guitar/vocals), Mark Feltham (harmonica), Mickey ‘Stix’ Burkey (drums) and Ben Willis (bass) as well as additional horn section, keyboards, violin and backing vocalists, creating an exciting new Nine Below Zero Big Band sound after an impressive live debut on the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury 2016.

Since their genesis in the 1970s, Nine Below Zero have been known for providing unique and innovative music in the form of alt blues-rock, a breath of fresh air in a pop punk era. Speaking about the tour, front-man Dennis Greaves said “To be back on tour with all the guys is incredible….the energy, enthusiasm and the magic are back.” 

“We never had a hit single, but we became a cult band with an almost fanatical following. It will be great for us all to reconnect with the fans” Dennis concludes. 

Singer/guitarist Dennis Greaves formed Stan’s Blues Band in 1977 with school friends, then recruited harmonica maestro Mark Feltham who lived on the same Peabody Estate in Tulse Hill, South London. “I thought we were the only people playing blues, but when we got on the circuit I discovered there were other bands out there”, Greaves remembers. “There was Red Beans And Rice, The Blues Band, The Little Roosters, The Inmates, Dr Feelgood – it was quite a big thing.” 
Changing their name to Nine Below Zero in 1979 and signing to A&M Records, they released their classic live set Live At The Marquee. The Glyn Johns-produced Don’t Point Your Finger followed in 1981 as well as an appearance on BBCTV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test. Their last album before splitting, Third Degree, followed in 1982,the band promoting single Eleven Plus Eleven on the first episode of hit comedy The Young Ones. 
Greaves reformed Nine Below Zero in 1990 with Feltham, who left in 1992 but rejoined in 2001. They are still an incendiary live act as those who witnessed their 2014 show at the ‘100 Club for The Blues' second birthday can confirm, and all that listen to 13 Shades of Blue can attest it is a fitting and accurate tribute to the Blues. 
Autumn 2016 Tour Dates can be found here.